I would like to start this week’s column with a letter from former Bulletin Editorial Director Steve Kittey, who writes in with a memorial tribute to Joe Mucci, who passed away Monday, Nov. 30:

“Westmoreland County lost a true football legend this week when Joe Mucci died early Monday at Excela Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg at the age of 86. Mucci got sick on Thanksgiving Day and died from complications related to the coronavirus.

“The highly successful and respected Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic coach, as well as athletic director, was mild-mannered and soft spoken, often having sports writers asking him to repeat a quote because it was barely audible.

“Joe, whom I met in 1964 when I began working at the Bulletin, was extraordinarily humble for someone who achieved such great success coaching football, first at Greensburg Central High School, where he began the football program in 1959, then later at Jeannette, where he became part of their storied program and is the second all-time leader in coaching wins, with an overall record of 150-33-3.

“Mucci, who coached the Jayhawks for 18 seasons (1968-1985), led them to 11 conference titles, three undefeated seasons and three WPIAL championships (1970, 1981 and 1983). Jeannette is the winningest program in WPIAL football history with 766 victories. He is a member of the Jeannette Senior High School Hall of Fame, the Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, the PA Scholastic Football Coaches Hall of Fame and the WPIAL Hall of Fame.

“I had a nickname for Joe’s teams at Central and then Jeannette because of his penchant of running a very successful play. I used to call him Joe ‘Draw Play’ Mucci and always joked with him about that play. Every football coach had that play among their arsenal but no one executed it as well as Mucci’s teams.

“The ‘draw play’ is a running play that is disguised (hopefully) as a passing play. Opponents knew Mucci was going to run that play but of course they didn’t know when.

“One day, I asked Joe what was his secret: how were his teams able to run that play so successfully? It was a staple of his teams’ offense and since Joe was of the old school — run, run, run the football and only throw when necessary, you had to think the opponents would always be ready for it.

“His answer went something like this: ‘Well, Steve, it’s just a simple football play and when it works it looks good.’ Asking for a more detailed description, Joe continued to throw some football jargon my way and by the time our conversation ended, I still didn’t know his secret and before I knew it we moved onto other conversation.

“I felt blessed that Joe considered me among his friends because he certainly had plenty of them. Joe and I were members of the WAC (Westmoreland Athletic Club) and always got to talk during our luncheons, held the third Monday of the month at DeNunzio’s Restaurant in the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. Unfortunately when COVID-19 arrived in March of this year, we canceled our luncheons indefinitely so I haven’t had the opportunity to meet with Joe since then.

“I considered Joe one of my best buddies. We could talk endlessly about a variety of topics besides football and if you knew Joe, you knew what a kind and compassionate individual he was.

“Joe never forgot his roots. A Derry Township native and St. Vincent College graduate, he knew my connection to both and we often talked about activities going on in the area.

“Not many people know it, but Joe almost became the head football coach at Greater Latrobe sometime in the 1970s. The Wildcat head football coaching job was open and some school board members asked Joe to apply for the position. He called me several times in the following days, swearing me to secrecy, and asked about the players, parents, midget football program, the school board, community support and possible assistant coaches if he took the job. He also talked with some of the people who he grew up with in Derry Township and eventually decided to stay at Jeannette. It was a big win for the Jayhawks and a big loss for the Wildcats.

“My condolences to Joe’s friends and family. I know his wife, Trudy, and two of his sons, Joe and Chris, the latter my dentist in Latrobe for over 20 years. Joe Mucci certainly will be missed.”

* * *

Derry Area High School Director of Media Services Tracey Smeltzer writes in to the Diary:

“2020 has certainly been an interesting year. We have had to make so many changes and adjustments to our daily lives. While things may be different and may not look the same as they have in years past, I am pleased to say that the Derry Area Education Association will team with the Diner’s Club and Derry United Methodist Church to sponsor the Christmas Dinner Box Project.

“Many of you have already reached out to ask if we will be providing Christmas Dinner Boxes to families in our community this year, and we have already begun to see donations coming in! Sadly, due to COVID-19 the KIND Closet open house will not be taking place. Many of you have been asking about that program as well, we hope to be able to bring it back when things return to normal.

“We once again hope to provide food for 130 to 140 families in the Derry Area with Christmas Dinner Boxes. $50 helps provide items such as a ham, potatoes, eggs, milk and other staples to families to help them through the Christmas break. We know this year, more than ever, many families are struggling, and this program can help alleviate some of the burden. If you would like to donate, please do! Checks can be made out to Derry Area High School with Diner’s Club on the memo line. Please mail to: The Diner’s Club ℅ Tracey Smeltzer Derry Area High School, 988 N. Chestnut St. Ext., Derry PA 15627.

“Thank you and Merry Christmas. Have a safe and healthy remainder of 2020 and the new year!”

* * *

The Derry Area School Board held its annual reorganization meeting Tuesday and voted to retain David Krinock as board president and Nathan Doherty as vice president. The board also approved its 2021 meeting schedule. The meetings, each scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the middle school auditorium, include: Regular meetings — Jan. 7, Feb. 4, March 4, April 1, May 6, June 3, June 24, Aug. 5, Sept. 2, Oct. 7, Nov. 4 and Dec. 1, and agenda prep/special meetings — Jan. 28, Feb. 25, March 25, April 29, May 20, May 27, July 29, Aug. 26, Sept. 30 and Oct. 28.

In addition, the school board also selected committee members for 2021, including: Steve Kozar, Gerald Hughes and Dean Reed on the Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center (EWCTC) Joint Operating Committee (JOC); Bill Feldbusch on the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit (WIU) Board; Doherty and Krinock on the WIU Legislative Council; Feldbusch on Adams Memorial Library Board; Krinock, Mark Maloy and Kevin Liberoni on the buildings and grounds committee; Doherty, Krinock, Liberoni and Maloy on the athletic committee, and Kozar and Hughes on the policy board committee.

* * *

Keeping with the Derry Area School District...

As you probably are already aware, at the regularly scheduled monthly board meeting held Tuesday, the school board had planned on keeping its course by continuing its current instructional model, despite having 29 teachers out that same day. However, that all changed Wednesday morning when superintendent Eric Curry notified the board, recommending to close schools and move to full-remote beginning Monday, Dec. 7, until Jan. 19, 2021.

Curry noted the frustration not only for the district, but also the families and children of the district.

Curry also mentioned that the move will give the district two weeks after Christmas to evaluate the COVID-19 numbers. He also noted that if for some reason the district can open by Jan. 11, that could be considered at the Jan. 7 school board meeting.

So, the best thing I can tell you is to stay tuned!

* * *

Derry Area School District 21st CCLC Program Director Debbie Gray would like to share that the after-school program (aft3r@dasd) will be offered virtually throughout the month of December. Elementary students can join in on the fun from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 4 to 5 p.m. Friday the days school are in session. Secondary students are invited to attend from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The program is free to students in the Derry Area School District K-12. A variety of STE(A)M activities are planned daily.

To register, go to cclc.dasd.us. A follow-up email will be sent upon registration.

Need more information? Email Debbie at dgray@dasd.us

Sign up today!

* * *

Derry Township Tax Collector Debby Zello writes in with an important announcement:

“I hope everyone is doing what they can to stay healthy and safe during this COVID-19 pandemic. Just want to keep everyone updated on wants going on for real estate and per capita tax updates. First, the penalty period for your spring, county/township real estate taxes, has been waived and the face amount is due by Dec. 31. Secondly, there have been no due date changes to your fall, school real estate taxes, face amount is until Nov. 30, and penalty until Dec. 31.

“Next, our office is currently open for in-person payments when you follow the guidelines posted on the administration building doors. Masks are required. Should the office close again due the COVID-19 pandemic, please mail your payments to: 978 N. Chestnut St. Ext., Derry, PA 15627. If a receipt is required. include the entire statement and a self-addressed stamped envelope. I would suggest to call the office (at) 724-694-5115 for any office hour updates before coming to make a payment. As long as the administration building remains open, there is a red locked box outside of the tax office for real estate and per capita payments. Payments need to be in a sealed envelope when placing them in the box. If you would like a receipt, please include a self-addressed stamped envelope...You need to make sure it is postmarked by Nov. 30 by the USPS to avoid the penalty charge.”

* * *

On a sad note, I would like extend my deepest sympathy to the Kozar family after Mandee L. Kozar, 35, of Latrobe, died unexpectedly Saturday, Nov. 28, at her home. Mandee was born Nov. 4, 1985, in Latrobe. She was a 2004 graduate of Derry Area High School and the daughter of current Derry Area School Board member Stephen W. Kozar Jr. and Derry Area School District Food Service Director Gwen Miller Kozar.

* * *

In another sad note, as previously mentioned at the top of this column, I would also like to extend my deepest sympathy to the Mucci family.

Joe was a great guy, and I’m glad to have had the chance to know him.

Growing up, I had always heard a lot about him and the great deal of respect our community had for him. In fact, one of the things I had always heard not only in our community, but also surrounding communities was the fact that “Much” should have been hired as Derry Area’s athletic director and head football coach.

I used to be a PIAA baseball, softball and wrestling official, and I will always remember and remain grateful for Joe calling me personally to officiate Jeannette High School sporting events.

The last time I saw Joe was at St. Rose Church a few years ago. I used to go to morning mass daily, and I’ll never forget the time I had the opportunity to sit with him and Stan Akins after Mass in the social hall for donuts and coffee. The church used to have birthday celebrations once a month on a Tuesday after morning Mass.

It was absolutely amazing to sit with him and Akins and listen to the stories between the both of them.

I know one thing, if I were on the school board back in the day, I surely would have fought like crazy to hire Joe at Derry Area, and I’m sure if current board president Dave Krinock were on the board back then, he would have been right beside me all the way! Incidentally, Mucci is Krinock’s uncle.

Regardless, as Steve Kittey mentioned previously, Mucci will be certainly missed!

* * *

Lastly, on yet another sad note:

On Wednesday, Nov. 25, Samatha Gray and Dustin Boring had lost their home and beloved pets because of a fire. Longtime friends Jade and Jenifer Shankle have organized a GoFundMe event to help the couple get back on their feet. If you can help in any way, please visit Jade or Jennifer’s Facebook page or visit gofundme.com to help. So far, a little more than $3,000 has been raised. The goal looks to be approximately $10,000.

Good luck and God bless!

* * *

Have a great weekend and let’s go Steelers!

* * *

Derry Diary items may be emailed to liberoni@aol.com.

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